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Ohio’s Unheard-of Environmental Catastrophe

BY CLINT RAINEY

The EPA says it’s safe to return to East Palestine after a train derailment sparked a toxic chemical fire, but locals are worried about ongoing health impacts.

We can add another picture right now it is everywhere with no rights involved??? Since we are not hiding where the article was written right?

A train derailment last week in Ohio has turned into a full-fledged environmental disaster, and it’s received surprisingly little national media coverage.

Last Friday, a train belonging to Norfolk Southern, one of America’s leading rail operators, derailed near the Pennsylvania border, leaving what the Associated Press called “a mangled and charred mass of boxcars and flames” just outside the village of East Palestine, home to about 5,000 people. The crash created a 50-car pileup—half the train’s length. According to Norfolk Southern, a fifth of the cars were carrying hazardous materials.

The wreckage proceeded to burn ominously all weekend. By Sunday evening, residents near the train tracks were told to “immediately evacuate” in a sudden alert from the office of Governor Mike DeWine. He went on to warn: “There is now the potential of catastrophic tanker failure which could cause an explosion with the potential of deadly shrapnel traveling up to a mile.”

Apparently a particular cause for concern were 14 giant tankers that were “exposed to fire” while full of hundreds of thousands of gallons of vinyl chloride. A chemical used in PVC, vinyl chloride is flammable, toxic, and a declared brain, lung, blood, and liver carcinogen. The federal government banned it from household spray cans in 1974. Breathing it “can make you dizzy or sleepy, or have a headache,” a fact sheet released two days ago by the Ohio Department of Health alerts readers. “You can die from breathing extremely high levels of vinyl chloride.”

It also boils at just 8 degrees Fahrenheit—meaning moving it into containers that cleanup crews could cart away probably wasn’t a safe option.

Instead, what authorities decided to do on Monday was a controlled burn of the chemical. That required evacuating more of East Palestine, since burning vinyl chloride was going to send massive plumes of hydrochloric acid and the toxic gas phosgene into the sky.

The burn alarmed people observing it from various positions, who maybe had a different idea of “controlled”:

Residents told the local news they “fear[ed] for their lives.” One said that even indoors, “You could smell it and taste it, and I had a headache.” Meanwhile, the crash site was leaching other hazardous materials besides vinyl chloride. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says they seeped into surrounding waterways, and “were immediately toxic to fish”—though it added that “actions were taken to minimize that.” The agency has assured the public that, the poor aquatic life’s fate notwithstanding, everybody’s drinking water was “protected.”

“ALL READINGS NORMAL”

Yesterday, the agency announced that the air in East Palestine was finally deemed safe enough for residents to return. Multiple samples from “strategic locations” had been taken; all readings were “at normal concentrations, normal backgrounds, which you find in almost any community,” the EPA said. Officials said they’ve also installed “a series of containment measures” to limit environmental impact from the site’s water runoff, and add that they’ll continue taking daily water samples from area creeks, water wells, and the Ohio River.

But reentering that “evacuation zone” isn’t that appealing yet to everyone, despite authorities’ reassurances. Some are circulating claims, unverified, about neighbors’ livestock dying. “Norfolk Southern assures us that the vinyl chloride spilling from the tanks of their derailed train and burning and turning into hydrogen chloride as it rises into the atmosphere and mixes with water vapor then turning into hydrochloric acid is not dangerous to humans more than 2 miles away,” tweeted Robert Atkinson, an International Brotherhood of Teamsters rep living in the area. “Why would I EVER doubt their word??????? It’s not like vinyl chloride in doses more than one part per million over an 8-hour period is extremely harmful to humans, and it’s not like hundreds of thousands of pounds of resulting toxic acid in the air is bad for humans either.”

Making things worse, a reporter for the media network NewsNation was arrested yesterday during the news event where Governor DeWine discussed the evacuation order being lifted, drawing a stern rebuke on Thursday afternoon from the Society of Professional Journalists, and also stoking rumors that Eastern Ohio was somehow becoming the scene of an environmental-disaster government coverup.

Meanwhile, given the definite White Noise vibe going on, the lawsuits have also started filtering in. According to the AP, on Tuesday three locals filed a suit against Norfolk Southern alleging negligence and exposure to toxic chemicals. They’re asking the judge to make it a class-action for all affected residents and businesses, plus anyone who may have been physically harmed by spilled chemicals. A spokesperson for Norfolk Southern said the company could not comment on pending litigation.

Yesterday, DeWine added it’s “very understandable” that residents might want their homes tested before reentering. The state says Norfolk Southern must pay for the cleanup costs, and that “the burden is upon them to assure the public that what they do everyday is safe.”

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